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Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Trip Report

The funniest article I read about the eclipse before we left was that they expected it to be “like 20 Woodstocks all at once”.

That was only funny before we left, though.

Total time: 55 hours
Total time spent driving (per Google): 32.5 hours
Total distance: 1039 miles
Longest traffic jam: 7 hours/70 miles

…still worth it!

I Been Waitin

I’ve been waiting for this eclipse for quite awhile. Since March 7, 1970, in fact, which was when I bugged out early from the test I was taking (to get into Cooper Union) so I wouldn’t miss it. I had arranged with Sarah to bring my little toy-ish Gilbert telescope to the Cube, right across the street from Cooper, because it happened to have a little projection screen for viewing the sun safely. So we not only watched the eclipse ourselves, but were able to show everyone hanging out around the cube what was going on.

This was it. Exactly! Thanks eBay!

I remember seeing weird and wild shadow bands moving across the concrete.** This eclipse was a full 96% totality (based on information I had found here), so I figured I had seen it all. Boy was I wrong.

The whole experience was so amazing that I decided I had to see another total solar eclipse, but I didn’t see any coming up until the 21st century, when I’d be an old man!*

Madras My Ass

OK, so these days I am an old man, but there was still no way I was missing this one. So I started plotting this trip a few years ago, and found this little town way up in the wilds of Oregon that absolutely nobody had ever heard of and which would be right in the center of the totality line, or as we call it here at Ghostbusters HQ, “Eclipse Central“. I sneakily tried to get hotel reservations two years in advance, but nobody was accepting them that far in advance. Then I tried the next year and they were all sold out…and so was everyplace else within a 50 mile radius.

And starting about a month before the event, all these newspaper articles and websites (at least here in California) were talking about Madras as if were the eclipse capital of the world. They started up an “eclipse festival” where you could pay $125 to sleep in your car. Well, this kind of behavior riled up my inner hippie wanderer or something, because I came up with this completely cockamamie scheme where we would drive halfway up and stay in a motel in California, then get up in the middle of the night and drive the rest of the way, thereby not having to (a) buy an insanely high priced motel room somewhere in Oregon or (b) having to pay someone $100 to park in their driveway because (c) there had to be some place to just pull over and watch the sky for 15 minutes and (d) relatively very few people would be likely to be driving in the middle of the night and (e) I’m good at that and I’m generally up late anyway.

And Away We Go

I also mentally prepared myself for not getting all hyper, crazy, and frantic if things didn’t work out, because I knew that even some clouds at the last minute could make the eclipse totally unviewable, so I decided that I’d have a variety of “Plan B” scenarios if it looked like we weren’t going to be able to drive all the way to Madras. These included things like stopping at cool places like Crater Lake or even Mt. Shasta, and using them as backdrops for the eclipse.

But the most amazing thing about my crazy scheme is that it worked perfectly. We had a leisurely drive up to Redding which took 4 hours, just like the gypsy woman (Google) said, we stayed in our favorite funky motel, we got up in the middle of the night and drove north. Sunrise found us in Klamath Falls, and the norther we drove, the more dire predictions of heavy traffic we saw on portable signs, but Google Maps kept telling us it was green almost all the way to Madras. We plotted some side routes, but they weren’t necessary.

We got up there in plenty of time to find a place to watch the whole thing without worrying about problems from locals wanting handouts or the Oregon State Police that seemed to be taking the letter of the law seriously. Apparently it’s illegal to pull over on the paved shoulder and just park, but if you’re on actual dirt then it’s all good.

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So we found a cornfield 2 miles outside city limits (but still well inside the Totality Zone), a little side road led to this area and it was at the top of a small hill, and there were already a few dozen people all set up. We parked in front of a new Prius who was parked in front of a Tesla. The Prius guy was from Sacramento and he was also nice enough to give us their last two eclipse glasses (we had given up on these and figured we just wouldn’t look up until totality). I set up all my camera stuff and then we just kind of waited around until things got interesting.

Waiting For God…Oh!

Bailey’s Beads and diamond rings aside, nothing I saw in 1970 prepared me for the insanity of totality. We didn’t see this in the East Village!

There are many total eclipse photos out there, but this one is mine!

And the glowing area only gives you the slightest hint of what the corona looked like. It was kind of like this guy’s photo (constructed by merging a dozen different photos specifically for this effect), except it was moving in circles and glowing. Srsly.

I also got another picture, which I’m not going to even try to explain. I honestly don’t know if the weird stuff here is artifacts from reflections inside the camera or lens, extra-terrestrials attempting to contact us, or an actual image from the moon (and at this point, I’m afraid to ask), but make of this what you will:

This video was coincidentally taken near where we were by a fellow that lives near us in California, and is a pretty good representation of what we saw, with the added attraction of drone shots showing the actual shadow moving across the earth.

But although I looked all over the web and even at NASA’s best work, I saw no videos that captured anything like the majesty of what we witnessed. It was just indescribable. And it’s very emotional for me when I see something like this, because I realize and experience the fact that it’s based on a cosmic appointment made billions of years ago! Here we are being grateful for experiencing this monumental cosmic coincidence:

I’m Going Home

The eclipse began at 10:21, and of course it was only two minutes long, so by 10:30 pretty much everyone was high-tailin’ it out of there, just like we did when Jimi packed up his guitar in Bethel 48 years ago, almost to the day (which was also a Monday morning!). See the whole shebang in less than a minute here:

Unfortunately, approximately 99.44% of them came from California, which meant every single one of them was headed south on 97 just like us. There may have been the equivalent of 20 Woodstocks across the whole country, but we had one right there in front of us, and it would stay there all freaking day. And night.

We will spare you most of the details of that Monday. The highlights were the 60-year-old general store that still had some of the original stock, and the worst Chinese food we’ve ever eaten that we didn’t actually get poisoned from. We slept in the car, woke up around midnight, spent another hour or so in traffic, then parked somewhere else which luckily turned out to be right next to a deli that opened at 6 and had amazing fresh muffins and more importantly a bathroom.

What was interesting is that not a single person beeped their horn in Oregon, no matter how bad the traffic got. And their roads are spotless and clean of all litter…they also spray-paint the roadside (brown) and impose a $6250 fine on litterbugs.

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Still Be Oregon

We cautiously drove down the road a piece, and traffic was actually moving now (almost 24 hours after the eclipse, remember). When we finally got to a “big town” with a proper breakfast place, we took the time to have a nice, gigantic, leisurely meal. Then we decided that we weren’t going to miss Crater Lake, because it was basically on the way home, and detoured there. Unfortunately, the whole area there was very smoky due to a number of wildfires, so we could barely see any of the lake, but we loved the visit anyway.

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After walking around a bit at that altitude, we were glad to get back in the car and leave. We didn’t know it at the time, but Susan was having some breathing problems from this and she continued to have problems today (we’re getting a lot of smoke now from California wildfires so she’s staying indoors). Anyway, we had to eat, and ended up at some “Jersey Boys” pizza place that sold flavored cardboard by the slice.

Then we got the car filled up again in Oregon (which may end up leading to another article all on its own), pointed south again, and after a huge meal at Black Bear Diner in Mt. Shasta and some Coca-Cola for the sugar and caffeine, made it back home by 9 PM that night, in spite of hitting rush hour traffic in Redding. The end.

“But we will drive 500 miles
And we will drive 500 back
Just to be the ones who drove a thousand miles
To see the sun turn black!”

 

  • I know there was one in Nova Scotia in 1972, but I don’t remember why I missed that one.
  • We didn’t see any shadow bands this time, so my theory is that totality makes it too dark to see them. I bet there were shadow bands down here in California where it was only a partial eclipse!
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